COVID-19 retro movie festival: The Croods #MovieReview

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

With COVID-19 cutting a swathe through just about everything worldwide, it’s no surprise that cinema is being as affected as anything else.

In just one day, one of my favourite cinema chains temporarily closed, the Sydney Film Festival was cancelled, the French Film Festival was postponed and my other favourite cinema group went to daily session releases, pending some kind of eventual closure. That was on top of the release dates of many films such as A Time to Die, Lovebirds and A Quiet Place II being pushed back until much later in the year.

So, given that new movies are very thin on the ground, out in the big wide world at least, I’ve decided to raid my DVD and Blu-Ray shelves, pull out the films I’d always meant to watch but never quite managed to and finally give them their moment in the reviewing sun.

As you self-isolate and quarantine and stay snug and safe indoors, I hope you’ll enjoy my very own COVID-19 retro movie festival!

REVIEW
Human being love to know things.

We are a curious species by nature, an attribute which has propelled from the trees to the ground, from quadrupedal to bipedal and from caves to cars and online shopping.

We’ll leave it to you to decide if this is a good thing or not, but suffice to say, it’s our curiosity that has made what we are today.

But what if, wonders Dreamworks’ 2013 animated feature The Croods, if we had decided new was bad, that being afraid all the time was a good thing and that we should spend our time sealed up in caves, save for the occasional excursion, in the daytime thank you very much, to get some food.

Things would have likely been very different right?

If Grug Crood (Nicolas Cage), staunchly conservative patriarch of The Croods had had anything to do with it, and goodness knows he gives it his best unyielding shot, we’d still be sitting in a cave somewhere, huge stone blocking the entrance, while a giant cat that looks like a mix between a sabre-toothed tiger and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, tried to get inside for a nice soft fleshy meal.

But as with every conservative immovable force, there’s always a defiantly energetic counterweight which takes the form of Grug’s daughter Eep (Emma Stone) who is, like teenagers ever since, test the boundaries of what she can and can’t get away with.

As The Croods opens, a film which takes very luminously colourful, near psychedelic liberties with the evolution of life on earth and the history of geology, Grug has the upper hand, keeping his family safe from the kind of mortal harm that has killed off the less careful neighbouring families (the sequence where their deaths are outlined in cave painting-style animation is a gruesomely merry Six Feet Under-esque delight).

They’re alive sure, but as Eep vigorously reasons more than once, isn’t there more to life than that? Aren’t they simply just, well, not dying?

She has a point, but Grug refuses to give ground with wife and über-caveman mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), calmly compliant pudgy son Thunk (Clark Duke), hilariously feral youngest daughter Sandy (Randy Thom) and Ugga’s sassy mother-in-law and Grug’s domestic nemesis Gran (Cloris Leachman) all backing him, it doesn’t look like much is going to change anytime soon.

But then one night when she should be sleeping safe in the cave, Eep notices a weirdly light playing across the boulder, and in her usually impulsive way, follows it up the cliff where she meets fire-carrying Guy (Ryan Reynolds in finally cheeky form) who warns her, when he is not flirting with her, that things are about to tectonically change.

She doesn’t fully comprehend what he means but in less than 24 hours, The Croods‘ cave is no more, and they are forced, with Guy as a willing/unwilling guide depending on the moment – his unwillingness comes less from not wanting to be with Eep, which he very much does (and she with him) than with trying to escape the weird energy of the decidedly unusual Croods clan – to go journeying far beyond anything any of them, bar Guy, have known before.

It’s a massive upsetting of the hitherto neatly-stacked Grug-driven applecart and as Eep and the others warm to the idea of shoes and umbrellas and yes, fire – which is not, fyi, a teeny-tiny sentient sun just in case you were wondering – they discover how wondrous and expansive their world can be.

Grug, however, isn’t happy with all this scary newness nor with Guy’s presence, which is proving far more captivating for daughter Eep than his own, and tries to sabotage things where he can.

But as conservatives has discovered over and over since the dawn of time (even though they repeatedly refuse to heed the lesson), wanting the world to stop just as you like it, and actually having the unstoppable, exuberant and volcanically violent natural order of things are too completely different things.

Needless to say Grug doesn’t come close to winning this particular battle.

The messaging in The Croods isn’t Pixar-nuanced but then that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Where The Croods excels is in taking a fairly bad, cut-and-dried idea that change is good, fearful stagnation is not and having a whole lot of fun with it.

There are sights gags aplenty – one of the near-to-opening scenes where they are trying to get a massive egg for breakfast from an understandably protective giant flightless bird mother is worth the price of admission alone – with the film’s willingness to play with Earth’s fossil record a joy that delivers again and again.

It really is in many ways an alternative and wacky-weird history of Earth where every animal is a mix of all the ones we know – turtle shell, multi-tailed birds anyone? – the landscape and flora are the sort of stuff Star Trek and Lost in Space have encountered on alien planets and the evolutionary path of humanity and the other fauna is not quite what Darwin and his scientific successors have documented.

It is also vibrantly, eye-dazzlingly colourful and very Alice in Wonderland idiosyncratic which gives the film a distinctively quirky vivid visual look that matches the freneticism of the action playing out.

The Croods are on the move and so is the Earth, and as they race ahead of destructive tectonic movements, so do their attitudes undergo a wholesale transformation, accompanied by some rather obvious but no less touching emotional moments.

Chief among these is not the romance between Guy and Eep which let’s face is a given from the moment they meet; no, what really takes centre stage is the father-daughter bond between Grug and Eep as they struggle to work out how their relationship should work when not only is Eep growing up, a huge change in and of itself, but the planet they call home is changing beyond all recognition.

It’s all rather clear what’s going to take place but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful or sweetly affecting, the scenes between Grug and Eep in particular providing some lovely counterpoints to the hilarity and soft lunacy of much of the action.

The Croods, based on a story by John Cleese, Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders (the latter story were responsible for the screenplay which retains touches of Monty Python-esque silliness) is a gem, not necessarily because it is a sophisticated piece of animation in the mold of Pixar but because it is an exuberantly upbeat story that benefits from adventurous, colourful visuals, an imaginative take on the history of the Earth and humanity’s place in it and because, most importantly, it runs with the idea that embracing change is what made us who we are and what will make us better people in every respect in the future.

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